Björk in The Netherlands in 1995
Photo: Michel Linssen/Redferns
'Post' at 25: How Björk Brought Her Ageless Sophomore Album To Life
The name Björk conjures some well-worn images. She's the otherworldly artist whose album rollouts resemble large-scale art projects. She's the avant-garde fashion maven who smiled serenely in the "swan dress" at the 2001 Oscars. And yes, she's the eternal kook selling a box set of 14 handmade bird-call flutes to complement her 2017 album, Utopia.
But there's a relatable image often missed in all the mythmaking: Björk in her late-20s, a wide-eyed new arrival in London, still at the grimy nightclub when the lights come on.
Born Björk Guðmundsdóttir, the singer moved from her native Iceland to London in the early '90s. Single in the big city with a young son, Sindri, the musician was eager for new experiences. London's sound clash of electronic music promised endless possibilities.
Björk went headlong into the nighttime world of the city, sampling jungle, drum & bass, house and techno. Not all of it connected. "Ninety-five percent of the dance music you hear today is crap," she told Rolling Stone in 1993. "It's only that experimental five percent that I'm into — the records that get played in clubs after seven o'clock in the morning, when the DJs are playing stuff for themselves, rather than trying to please people."
Gradually, Björk met her people. She found kindred spirits in Graham Massey, founding member of Manchester acid house innovators 808 State, and Nellee Hooper, a sound system veteran known for his work with Soul II Soul. Out of this creative awakening came Björk's Debut, in 1993, and its astonishing follow-up, Post, which turned 25 this June.
In her formative years, Björk played in rock bands, but she was never a rock loyalist. Growing up in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavík, she learned the country's folk songs from her grandmother. After her parents divorced early in her life, Björk moved between the domains of her straight-laced electrician father and free-spirited activist mother.
In spite of splitting her time between parents, she was always surrounded by music. Her mother couldn't afford an oboe, so Björk learned the flute instead. On the long walks to and from school, she honed her remarkable singing voice. She released an album at 11 years old and found success in the Icelandic alt-rock group, The Sugarcubes. (Her former husband and father to her son, Sindri, was the band's guitarist.)
But Björk was unfulfilled, and 808 State's Graham Massey represented a new path. On Björk's request, the pair met in London to discuss beats. She liked the uncommercial approach to electronic music he’d honed in Manchester’s acid house scene; he was floored by her spine-tingling voice. Björk had arrangements for two songs, "Army Of Me" and "The Modern Things," that needed some edge. They finished "Army Of Me" in an afternoon, with Björk tinkering on a pocket sequencer while Massey perfected a giant bass riff. (Meanwhile, Björk appeared as a vocalist on 808 State's 1991 album, ex:el, and brought the band to Reykjavík to play the songs live.)
Björk also found a creative groove with Nellee Hooper, a former member of the Bristol DJ collective The Wild Bunch turned GRAMMY-winning superproducer for the likes of U2, Sinead O'Connor and Gwen Stefani, among others. Björk and Hooper shared a vision for a complete concept, which would later become her aptly titled 1993 debut album, Debut. (The Massey-assisted "Army Of Me" and "The Modern Things" were shelved for later use.) Produced by Björk and Hooper alone, Debut cleanly broke ties with the singer's rock past and instead welcomed trip-hop, house and synth-pop into her sound.
In the afterglow of Debut, Björk went deeper into London club culture. She wanted her next album to reflect the restless pulse and possibilities of her newly adopted home. "Most acts were putting out seven-inches with throwaway lyrics like, 'Ooh, baby, baby,'" Massey told Paper Magazine in 1997. "But Björk took that culture and made an album with poetic lyrics. It blew everyone away. She never tried to fit in with any electronic movement, she just took the ideas and got personal with it."
That "poetic" album was Post. On its cover, Björk looks out from a heightened Piccadilly Circus in London's West End. Her jacket, designed by art world favorite Hussein Chalayan, resembles a U.K. Airmail envelope. (Björk, a frequent shopper at London's acid-house-inspired fashion store Sign Of The Times, already had designer cred.)
On nights out, Björk had got to know Hooper's friends, including Massive Attack collaborator Tricky and Scottish producer Howie B. With input from her nocturnal cohort, Björk was determined to make Post much more riotous than Debut.
Björk left the hustle of London to begin work on Post at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas. The stories from those sessions are pure, uncut Björk excess. She used extra-long leads on her microphone and headphones to record at the ocean's edge. She sang "Cover Me" in a cave full of bats. On a side trip to Iceland, she swam in hot springs and admired glaciers with Tricky. (The pair briefly dated, but as Tricky put it bluntly to self-titled years later, "I wasn't a good boyfriend.")
Back in London, Björk continued to hone Post, reaching for a balance between organic sounds and machine-made elements. In the final stretch, she coaxed Brazilian composer Eumir Deodato from semi-retirement to help fill out the sound. At last, Post was ready for the world.
Albums often open with something moody and instrumental to set the tone. Post is not that kind of album. From the first moment, "Army Of Me" is all crunching propulsion, its shoulder-shaking lyrics sparked by Björk's sometimes-wayward younger brother. ("It's sort of a 'big sister telling little brother off' song," she told Stereogum in 2008.)
From the jump, Post refuses to sit still. No two tracks can be easily grouped. "Hyperballad" is somehow a few songs in one five-minute package: equal parts acid house and Deodato's swelling strings, with a virtuoso vocal performance that combines innocent wonder and furious catharsis.
There's no greater example of the album's tonal shifts than "It's Oh So Quiet" into "Enjoy." The former became the album’s biggest hit—its visual was nominated for Best Music Video, Short Form at the 1996 GRAMMYs, alongside a Best Alternative Music Performance nod for Post. But awards glory was never in the plan. "It was the last song we did,” Björk told Stereogum of "It's Oh So Quiet." "Just to make absolutely certain the album would be as schizophrenic as possible."
All these years later, "It's Oh So Quiet" remains an uninhibited thrill. While reverent to the 1951 version by Betty Hutton, itself a powerhouse, the song's ecstatic Björk-ness cuts through the throwback big-band sound, building from a whisper to gale-force theatrics.
"Enjoy" then switches the setting from wartime revue to Bristol basement club. Created with Tricky—who released his masterful debut album, Maxinquaye, in the same year—"Enjoy" is scuffed and oppressive in the best way. In short: This ain't a show tune.
On "Isobel," written with Icelandic poet Sjón, Björk reached for, as she later told Stereogum, a "heightened mythical state." The song sounds like scaling a glacier and singing to the stars. But Post never lets you pin Björk as an ethereal, unknowable pixie. She also does "normal people" things, like getting too drunk and staying out until sunrise. (Hungover Björk interviews were a theme of the mid-'90s. "I come from a country where from the age of 15 you drink one liter of vodka every Friday straight from the bottle," she told SPIN in 1997.)
She also knows a messy breakup as well as anyone. So from the astral plane of "Isobel" we go to "Possibly Maybe," a lovelorn, but still wry slowburner. You picture it sung late at night in a London apartment, far from the warmth of the Bahamas.
"I Miss You," the final single released from Post, is the synthesis of all its wild instincts. There's so much here: horns, relentless percussion, a skittering, curving beat and Björk in blistering form. But the excess works. "Cover Me" and then "Headphones," written as an ode to Graham Massey's mixtapes, provide the album's gentle comedown. By the hushed final moments of Björk singing about sleep, you forget how furiously Post began.
It's hard to pinpoint the exact influence of Björk's Post over the past 25 years. Forever on the move, the 15-time GRAMMY nominee has never been defined by one album alone.
After a nightmarish 1996, which included a scuffle with a journalist and a bomb threat from a stalker, Björk decamped to Spain to record a follow-up to Post. Released in 1997, the brilliant Homogenic was more unified and consciously Icelandic than its predecessors.
Homogenic set a precedent for an artistic reinvention by the singer every few years. As a result, other artists tend to credit the totality of Björk's output, rather than a single album, as inspirational. Most avoid her name at all: Citing a talent as vast and singular as Björk can only invite unfair comparisons.
Over the decades since Post, Björk has made a habit of working with artists she's inspired. "That's the good thing with being so obsessed with music," she told the Evening Standard in 2016, "you've always got other nerds who are obsessing, too. It's kind of ageless."
In recent years, those collaborators have included experimental electronic producers The Haxan Cloak and Arca as well as art-pop original ANOHNI. Throughout her many creative partnerships, Björk has battled sexist notions of authorship. "It's always like I'm this esoteric creature; that I just turn up and sing and go home," she vented to the Evening Standard.
Contemporary singer-songwriters Jenny Hval and Mitski openly worship Björk, both jumping at the chance to interview their hero for a Dazed feature in 2017. Other parallels can be reductive. Shapeshifting singer FKA twigs, for one, is often cited as Björk-like. While the pair share a collaborator in music video visionary Andrew Thomas Huang, the comparison is a too-easy catch-all for women skirting traditional pop.
In the 25 years since its release, Post has come to represent something wider than Björk's specific viewpoint. It's the best possible outcome of a timeless conceit: the transplant intoxicated by a new city, channeling their experiences and anxieties into art. In an era when cities are siloed and flights are grounded, Post feels impossibly romantic.